The Earth's climate is changing — the surface temperature is rising, long-term weather patterns are shifting, and extreme weather events such as wildfires and floods are becoming more frequent.
Before discussing global warming and how it relates to climate change, it's worth outlining the key difference between weather and climate: Time.
Weather accounts for short-term conditions such as precipitation, humidity, temperature, wind, and clouds — conditions that can change by the minute but are usually discussed by day.
Climate also considers atmospheric conditions, but it accounts for long-term trends, covering approximately 30 years. When discussing the climate of a certain place, the focus will be on the averages for extended periods.
Climate change doesn't consider changes in short-term conditions like one record-breaking winter or an increase in rainy weather in an area over a month. Instead, it's about noticing and projecting long-term changes to a large area's climate. One of these changes is global warming.
Global warming explained
Global warming is the gradual increase in the Earth's surface temperature from artificial causes like greenhouse gases (GHGs). Since the early 1800s, the global average temperature has increased by 1.2 degrees Celsius. Based on a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) report, global temperatures will continue to rise without significant decarbonization, leading to dire consequences.
Central to the rise in global average temperature is the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect occurs when excess heat becomes trapped in the Earth's atmosphere, mainly caused by GHG emissions like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases.
While some GHGs occur naturally, the increasing influence on the planet's energy balance can be attributed to burning fossil fuels. Since the mid-19th century, due to the industrial revolution and technological advancements, humanity has increased its GHG emissions, causing warmer temperatures.
The effects of extreme weather events and conditions are felt globally. Wildfires in California, heatwaves in the UK, and the worst recorded flood in Bangladesh are only a few examples from the past year.
Even though these events are happening across different areas of the planet, the less developed countries remain the most vulnerable. As these communities have contributed the least to global warming, the predominant argument is that developed countries and high-contributing industries should foster environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategies to mitigate global warming wherever possible.
A changing climate
The main difference between global warming and climate change is that global warming is a form of climate change, but climate change isn't defined by global surface temperatures alone.
To determine how the climate is changing, scientists do look at surface temperature, but they also analyze environmental concerns such as arctic glacier melt, rising sea levels, jet stream variations, and localized weather system changes. Each of these anomalies has drastic effects on global climates and weather patterns.
The similarity between global warming and climate change is that both involve excessive heat in the Earth's system. Because man-made GHGs are the primary cause of this temperature increase, and because this increase causes many of the other relevant — and dangerous — climate changes, global warming is a valuable indicator of how other climate changes will progress.
Causes of global warming and other climate changes
Global warming effects are detrimental to the planet and will worsen with time without proper action. Melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and increased carbon dioxide levels are a few examples of the destructive effects of global warming.
Other climate changes effects include extreme weather events and conditions such as heatwaves or intense droughts, loss of biodiversity, and social ramifications such as rising poverty and global hunger.
To understand how an organization can manage its environmental impact, it's worth exploring some causes of global warming and other climate changes.
Global warming causes and possible solutions
- GHG emissions: Burning fossil fuels increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and other GHGs trap heat in the atmosphere, leading to the greenhouse effect that causes increased global temperatures. Corporations can combat the greenhouse effect by investing in energy-efficient buildings and using sustainable manufacturing methods. The agriculture industry also significantly adds to GHG emissions, contributing large amounts of methane contaminating the Earth's atmosphere.
- Human activity: The main contributor to the greenhouse effect is the burning of fossil fuels in transportation, manufacturing, energy production, and other human-related activities. Renewable energy solutions like solar and wind power and alternative transportation types like electric cars and public transit are all changes one can make to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
- Deforestation: Forests absorb carbon dioxide and clean the air, making them essential to reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When deforestation occurs due to logging or development, the planet loses the ability to filter out harmful pollutants, increasing the rate of global warming. Companies should strive to mitigate deforestation and promote sustainable forestry.
Other climate change causes
- Earth's distance from the sun: Solar cycles vary over time, affecting the strength and duration of sunlight. This is a normal phenomenon not caused by human activity.
- Volcanic eruptions: When a volcano erupts, it traps sulfur in the atmosphere, blocking light from the sun and increasing sea ice, which results in a cooling effect.
- Ocean changes: An ocean's tides significantly affect weather patterns worldwide, and water temperatures often change due to natural and artificial causes. Oceans are also considered "carbon sinks," meaning they absorb carbon dioxide and can help mitigate global warming.
What corporations can do
Large corporations are some of the greatest contributors to climate change because they require significant resources. A corporation's actions are also quite visible — even small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) as they have various stakeholders, investors and the general public.
To join the fight against the devastating effects of an increasingly tumultuous climate, companies must account for their emission output and resource use and become better environmental stewards. Not only will this do wonders for our planet, but it will improve a corporation's ESG score, provide value to stakeholders, instill pride in employees and set a positive example.
*Disclaimer: This summary is for general education purposes only and may be subject to change. ESGgo, Inc., and its affiliates (the “Company”, “ESGgo”, “we”, or “us”) cannot guarantee the accuracy of the statements made or conclusions reached in this summary and we expressly disclaim all representations and warranties (whether express or implied by statute or otherwise) whatsoever.